Jamie Dickey had seen this story line play out for his team for a lot of the season.
The Stratford Eagles have played well in stretches of games but then have stretches that they haven’t played well. The early rough stretch was too much to overcome in the first round. The Eagles fell 52-48 to Aquinas at Wilkinson County.
“We had a really bad first half, and we just didn’t play well,” Dickey said. “But that’s the way we have played this season. We will have a really good spurt when we play really well, and then we’ll be sluggish on offense and really struggle.
“We played better in the second half, but we just didn’t make enough plays or get enough stops.”
The Eagles trailed 27-14 at the half, and then Aquinas got two quick scores to go up by 17 in the third quarter. Stratford fought all the way back and pulled to within 41-40 but wasn’t able to take the lead on a couple of chances early in the fourth quarter.
From there, the game went down to the wire, and Quintez Cephus, who finished with 28 points to lead the Eagles, hit a 3-pointer to cut Aquinas’ lead to 50-48 with 39.3 seconds left.
After a steal by Nate Brooks, the Eagles had the ball with a chance to win or tie, and Noah Hill was fouled with 7.3 seconds left. He missed the first free throw, and Stratford was called for a lane violation on the second. SanAntonio Brinson then made two free throws for Aquinas to seal its win.
“What I told them in the locker room is to stick together,” Dickey said. “The worst thing to do in tough times is to separate. We’re still going to the state playoffs, and we get to play some more, so we need them to stick together.”